Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 30, 2020

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It’s a question asked by everyone considering bringing a case for medical malpractice: how much will it be worth, anyway? Let’s face it – nobody wants to go through the time, expense and stress of full-blown litigation for a paltry settlement. But how can you determine ahead of time how much your medical malpractice case is worth? (Click for a discussion on calculating pain and suffering).

The answer is complicated. In fact, the worth of a case depends on a large host of factors, including jurisdiction, severity, pre-existing conditions and possible caps on damages in your state. Here’s the lowdown on factors that can make or break the worth of your medical malpractice case:

Jurisdiction: Where the injury occurred can sometimes have as much to do with the amount of damages or settlement you can collect as the injury itself. The rules about unprofessional conduct and doctor liability vary from state to state. Your attorney will help you establish the venue and jurisdiction of your case and advise you on what, if any, limitations the state places on your potential settlement or damage award.

Potential state caps: Since states are generally responsible for issues of malpractice, many have instituted caps on damages as a deterrent to frivolous claims. These include taking the amount available to an injured person through “collateral sources” such as health insurance out of the settlement, limiting the payment of damages to installment plans instead of lump-sum payments, and capping damages altogether.

Severity: Lately, insurance companies are increasingly attributing rising premiums to increases in claims of injury severity. Severity is the degree to which you were injured. For example, a cleanly broken bone that requires a cast is considered a less severe injury than the same bone that was shattered in several places and which required surgery and extensive rehabilitation. It’s a common-sense guideline for how much your case is worth – the more severe the injury, the greater your likely damages or settlement.

Pre-existing conditions: As in workers’ compensation law and other areas of law, it will be harder to get a large settlement or award for an injury on top of a pre-existing injury. For example, if you had knee surgery years ago, it may be more difficult to get a large settlement for a case resulting in damage to an already problematic knee. Be honest about your pre-existing conditions, if any, when you consult with your lawyer – the opposing side will be asking for a detailed medical history including medical records and can capitalize on any pre-existing condition or injury related to your case.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of gray area in the world of medical malpractice. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will be able to analyze your individual circumstances and give you a better idea of how much your case is worth – or whether you should consider abandoning potentially stressful and expensive litigation altogether.